Owen – New Leaves

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Owen’s sole member, Mike Kinsella, has been tooling around the scene since before we even knew what a ‘scene’.  With his brother, Tim, Mike helped start the groundbreaking band Cap n’ Jazz in 1989 which, with a solitary LP and a handful of singles and compilation tracks, changed the way we saw indie rock.  Since the bands split in 1995, Kinsella has put in time with such indie luminaries as Joan of Arc, American Football, Owls, and eventually settling with a his current solo project, Owen, in 2001.

In that time Kinsella has released five albums under the Owen moniker.  Each of these albums, while progressing with minor changes from one to the next, have essentially remained the same: Kinsella’s calming, but oft-times uncertain voice, telling of drunken late nights and one night stands, all with a background of lush acoustic melodies that surround you in blankets of finger-picking, hammer-ons and pull-offs.  If Kinsella weren’t such an accomplished lyricist and musician this formula would become tiresome.  In all honesty, for this reviewer, it had gotten tiresome around 2004 with the release of Owen’s third album, I Do Perceive.  I had grown tired of the clever narratives and pretty songs about finding girls and losing said girls.  I had all but written off Mike Kinsella.

But starting with 2006’s At Home With… and continuing more in his current album, New Leaves (released this week on Polyvinyl Records), something happened with Owen: Mike Kinsella grew up.  After a marriage and a new daughter, Kinsella’s lyrics have matured. Now he is longing for change in his life.  In the first single “Good Friends, Bad Habits” Kinsella laments about being jealous of his friends late nights and bar fights, but in the refrain he clarifies “Sometimes, like every time she breathes, I embrace my routine”.  This sentiment is carried on throughout New Leaves, in songs like the title track and “Amnesia and Me”.

There are still the tracks, most notably “Ugly on the Inside” and “Brown Hair in a Bird’s Nest” that hearken back to his previous lyrical content, and it just seems tired compared to recent domesticated enlightenment. Overall, though, New Leaves is a beautiful and heartfelt record that deserves a listen or two, but it would be nice to change things up every once and a while.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/02-good-friends-bad-habits-1.mp3]

Download: Owen – Good Friends, Bad Habits [MP3]